This is a story about the healing power of art.
This painting ‘Hope’ documented my healing process from a back injury that caused me intense pain for months and also caused me to reassess my life and future in the most fundamental ways.
I had sustained a lower back injury that limited all of my physical movements. I couldn’t play with my kids, lift them, run with them, or roll around having cuddle parties on the bed anymore. Even sneezing or coughing was cause for agony. The only time I smiled that summer was when I was weightless floating in a pool. I was boring, cranky mama. I couldn’t do anything around the house, but the most basic cooking and then only for short stretches before needing to rest.
I was also questioning my work life. My job as a support worker in a secondary school art department needed me to be physically strong, lifting, carrying and cleaning. Some days every move was agony. The other staff would find me taking breaks on the floor with my knees raised, as it was the only way to rest comfortably and get some respite. I tried to put a brave face on it, but my family bore the brunt of my ill feeling when I raced home only to lie on the floor in front of a heat lamp in hope of getting some relief.
I had always prided myself on being a strong, capable achiever. But in my darkest times I doubted that I would ever be productive again.
My one inkling of hope came about through a painting commission for a friend. I really didn’t want to let him down, as the painting would be a gift for his wife. So I honored my agreement to make a painting of their new home in its beautiful bushland setting. I achieved this in short bursts, 10 or 15 minutes at a time. And gradually I finished a painting that we were all happy with. That painting made me realise that making a life and a living as an artist was the most fulfilling, and potentially sustainable thing I could do with my life from that point onwards. I felt like that painting was my only achievement in those months.
In those months I thought that my back might eventually get better on its own. I just needed to rest and then toughen up and push through. A close friend who is a doctor convinced me that the level of pain I was in was not something trivial and I needed to see a specialist.
After waiting for an appointment for weeks, and finally getting an MRI scan three months after sustaining the injury, I discovered I had two bulging discs that were impinging on my sciatic nerve. I was both devastated and angry that it was so serious and would impact on my life for the next couple of years at least. I came home and painted the first layer of a new painting, letting all the pent up anger, disappointment and pain spill on to the canvas. That first layer was red and brown, primal, icky and ugly. My boys came home and saw the jaws of a shark in the red and white marks I had made.
I had a cortisone injection in my spine to relieve the pain and to activate the healing process. As I began to feel slightly better, I returned to the painting again and again over a period of weeks. I worked intuitively, and little by little, layer by layer, it became lighter, more colourful and gently hopeful. Trees represent many things for me, shelter, growth, quiet strength and peace. Finally, I finished the painting by placing a bird in the top corner as a symbol of joy, hope and freedom. The process of making this painting truly did give me hope. It is a talisman for the power of art in my life.